Bush urges Congress to lift offshore drilling ban
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WASHINGTON - With gasoline topping $4 a gallon, President Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to lift its long-standing ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, saying the United States needs to increase its energy production. Democrats quickly rejected the idea.
"There is no excuse for delay," the president said in a statement in the Rose Garden. With the presidential election just months away, Bush made a pointed attack on Democrats, accusing them of obstructing his energy proposals and blaming them for high gasoline costs. His proposal echoed a call by Republican presidential candidate John McCain to open the Continental Shelf for exploration
Congressional Democrats were quick to reject the push for lifting the drilling moratorium, saying oil companies already have 68 million acres offshore waters under lease that are not being developed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Bush's proposals "another page from (an)... energy policy that was literally written by the oil industry — give away more public resources."
Sen. Barack Obama, the Democrats' presumptive presidential nominee, rejected lifting the drilling moratorium that has been supported by a succession of presidents for nearly two decades.
"This is not something that's going to give consumers short-term relief and it is not a long-term solution to our problems with fossil fuels generally and oil in particular," said Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, lumping Bush with McCain, accused them of staging a "cynical campaign ploy" that won't help lower energy prices.
"Despite what President Bush, John McCain and their friends in the oil industry claim, we cannot drill our way out of this problem," Reid said. "The math is simple: America has just three percent of the world's oil reserves, but Americans use a quarter of its oil."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto retorted: "Anyone out there saying that something can be done overnight, or in a matter of months, to deal with high gasoline prices is trying to fool people. There is no tool in the toolbox out there that will lower gas prices overnight, or in weeks, or probably not even in months."
Bush said offshore drilling could yield up to 18 billion barrels of oil over time, although it would take years for production to start. Bush also said offshore drilling would take pressure off prices over time.
There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by Bush's father in 1990. Bush's brother, Jeb, fiercely opposed offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida. What the president now proposes would rescind his father's decision — but the president took the position that Congress has to act first and then he would follow behind.
Asked why Bush doesn't act first and lift the ban, Keith Hennessey, the director of the president's economic council, said: "He thinks that probably the most productive way to work with this Congress is to try to do it in tandem."
Before Bush spoke, the House Appropriations Committee postponed a vote it had scheduled for Wednesday on legislation doing the opposite of what the president asked — extending Congress' ban on offshore drilling.
"Bull Shots, they didn't dare extend the off shore ban, there would be riots in the streets !"
Lawmakers said they wanted to focus on a disaster relief bill for the battered Midwest.